At the UM Tucker Center lecture Monday night on women's sports and social media, I suggested that the primary function of mediated/spectator sports in U.S. culture is to reinforce gender norms (apologies to Noam Chomsky).
It starts early. Just look at SI for Kids, which disproportionately focuses on men and boys (maybe "SI for Boys" would be a better title) and relies on gender stereotypes in relationship to sports. One feature in the magazine, the "Buzz Beamer" cartoon, is sometimes so overt in its use of gender stereotypes as to be laughable (maybe that's what supposed to be funny). Buzz Beamer's October entry (p. 56) is such an example: apparently Marial Zagunis, an Olympic gold-medal fencer, is capable only of carving "beautiful" pumpkins; her male counterpart (hockey player Alex Ovechkin), of course, is capable only of making the opposite (a scary one).
Obviously, the problem with this kind of message is that underlying it is the assumption of gender binaries. What do girls and boys take away from a cartoon that makes this point? Unfortunately, it's not a message that encourages girls or boys to move beyond traditional gender roles that hinder both from exploring sports activities they might otherwise pursue.